CARIBOU, Maine — Hundreds of multicolored balloons used Thursday to launch a balloonist for a trans-Atlantic crossing look like a page taken from the script of the movie “Up.”
Instead of using a conventional hot-air balloon, Jonathan Trappe lifted off using 370 — some reports said 365 — helium-filled balloons, like those used in the animated movie.
Trappe’s goal is to float across the ocean.
“The Atlantic Ocean has been crossed many times, and in many ways, but never quite like this,” he said on his website.
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Caribou City Manager Austin Bleess said about 150 volunteers helped in filling the helium balloons starting Wednesday night. Trappe and his balloons lifted off from a foggy softball field near the Canadian border at sunrise Thursday. “Man, it was awesome,” Bleess said.
Also on hand was Joe Kittinger, a retired Air Force officer who once set a record for jumping from a balloon 19.5 miles up and later became the first solo balloonist to cross the Atlantic, in 1984.
Trappe, 39, is no stranger to cluster balloons. He’s used them to fly in an office chair, and he’s used them to lift a faux house, just like in the Disney-Pixar movie. In 2010, he crossed the English Channel using a cluster of balloons.
For his trans-Atlantic crossing, the basket in which he’s riding is a lifeboat that could be used if he ditches in the ocean. Trappe, an IT project manager from Raleigh, N.C., told British newspaper The Guardian: “It was nail-biting waiting for a weather window that would allow me to get up into the air and catch those transatlantic winds we’d been seeing. I need to get on them and ride them across like a conveyor belt.”
He will go as high as 25,000 feet to ride the winds . To ascend, he will drop ballast; to descend, he will pop or release balloons.
He holds the record for the longest cluster-balloon flight, of 14 hours. “This is far greater than anything achieved before,” he told the newspaper. “I’m looking at 62 hours or longer.”
He worked on the trans-Atlantic crossing for two years and hoped to be the first person to succeed with a cluster of balloons.
Late Thursday, Trappe wrote on his Facebook page that he had had landed safely at a remote location and would spend the night before resuming the journey. He didn’t say where he was. The airborne journey, if it goes according to plan, could take from three to six days. He could land anywhere from Norway to North Africa, depending on wind currents.